Semi-Public Conversations: The Bar Exam

I find myself at a familiar bar.  If the bar has a name, I don’t particularly need to know it.  The address and part of town the bar is in are, similarly, inconsequential.  All I know is I’m not drinking anything with a kick; I don’t avoid alcohol all together, but it doesn’t always agree with me…so I usually don’t drink unless it is a special occasion.

Wait, is this a special occasion?  I doubt it somehow.

Well, anything is a special occasion if you want it to be.” he says, reading my mind as he hops up onto the stool beside me.  “Haven’t seen you here for a while.

“I would think you haven’t seen me much of anywhere at all.” I reply, somewhat gloomily, into my coffee.  Coffee, as a term, could be used loosely in this instance; the liquid in my cup was probably more milk than coffee.

Feh,” he says dismissively, with a gesture to match, “You don’t need to see me for me to see you.  That’s not particularly complicated and you know better…so why submit to guilt that you don’t need?

“Does anyone need guilt?”

He shrugs, “I’m not sure Catholics would be able to operate without it.”  A grin crosses his face as the words escape his lips.  He look at me as he takes a sip from a wine glass filled with an amber color liquid.

“With or without the ‘U’?” I ask with a smirk that I don’t quite feel, but I can’t quite stop.

Both!” he says, and the chuckle bleeds into his words a bit.

“So you’re trying to tell me that my lack of spirituality isn’t a problem?”

When did I say that?  Of course it’s a problem!” he retorts, his tone now a bit more acidic, “Shame and guilt aren’t going to get a lick of anything done however.  Pondering is all well and good, but an excess is just putting a boat on dry land and wondering why you aren’t getting anywhere.” A hand that edges between gentle and firm slaps the back of my head.  “You know that…but you aren’t acting on it.  That is a problem.

I pause.  “So you aren’t offended?”

A bit, just not by any ‘attendance’ issues.”  he says, in a tone that suggests irritation, but doesn’t quite commit.

“Okay, than by what?”

He turns on his stool after setting the cup down.  The look is firm, though not unkind.  “You’re back tracking.  You’re writing less.  Your praying less.  You center is, ironically, anywhere but you actual center.  You can do better than this…and you’re not.  Ennui isn’t the problem…it’s when you roll over to it and accept it.  That is…that’s offensive.  That’s distasteful.” he faces forward.  “Pray or do not pray…your heart and soul cast that nature of your devotion even when your thoughts do not.  It bothers you far more when you fail; when you do nothing about that is when it begins to bother me.

“Seems like an easy system to abuse.” I quip.  He gives me a look.

Try it.” he replies, in an extremely even tone.

I clear my throat a bit.  “I’m not intending to…I just.” I pause, collecting my words.  He sips at the mead absently.  The sentiment is hard to even put to thought, much less to language.

This…is still new territory to you.  I get that.  You’re learning how to sort your thoughts, your heart, and your soul in entirely new directions.  Your entire being, for that matter.  The discoveries aren’t exclusively spiritual; they’re coming from every corner of your identity.” he swirls the drink in its glass absently as he speaks. “There is nothing wrong with that.  Any of that.  There isn’t even anything truly wrong with being unable to understand it all of the time…especially at this point.  However…what is wrong is being satisfied with how unsatisfied you feel.

I nod, absently.  I sip my coffee, and then look at the ceiling.  “It’s just hard balancing out everything…coming to a proper understanding of things…”

He shrugs.  “Let me help with that.” he says, casually, “What are the issues?

“Well, where does working for a better more inclusive Heathenry stop being spiritual and start being selfish?”

He looks at me.  “When you start doing it for yourself and your own reputation you idiot.

I pause.  “That was a dumb question.”, I concede.

It won’t make my top ten, but it’s closer than you’d probably be happy with” he says with a thin smile.

“Okay…what happens if I write too much about subjects of social justice?”

He sighs.  “Why on Earth are you pretending you’d give a shit about any of their stupid opinions…anyone who would actually be bothered by that isn’t someone you’re apt to care about.”

I pause again.  “Top ten?”

His expression is blank, but his eyes are dancing at some private joke. “Stop taking yourself so damn seriously…it’s preventing you from doing anything worth being serious about.

I nod to myself.  It’s the best advice I’ve gotten in quite a while, but I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at that.

He finishes the glass and stands up to leave. “I’ve got work to do…and so do you.” he says simply.

I pause.  “Then…where are you going?” I ask.

He turns around to look back at me.  My smile is still rough around the edges, but it’s not so forced as it was before.  He grins. “See…now was that so difficult to grasp?”